Triathlete Tech: Smart Sports Watches and How to Find One

Tech has become a part of nearly every aspect of our lives. This is no different when it comes to the world of sports. While there are many devices on the market to boost performance and training, we will narrow our scope today to sports watches; specifically, ones that are best for triathlons. We will first talk about what to look for in a watch and what functionalities are important for them to have for the swim, cycling, and running components of a triathlon. We will also take some time to talk about what Multisport Mode is, design, and review a few recommendations.

Swim Tracking is vital to keeping track of your distance, and ensuring you have stats to track and improve over time! Swim Tracking is vital to keeping track of your distance, and ensuring you have stats to track and improve over time!

Swim Tracking… Am I on Lap 27 or 28?

A good sports watch will measure and track your swims in both the open water and in the pool. It will track your distance, your speed, and time spent. Pool swims can feel longer than they actually are, so it is easy to lose track of which lap you are on. A good watch will keep track of the laps for you and use the information it gathers to determine your overall speed and distance per lap.

If you plan on swimming in the open water, then look for a good watch with GPS. Not only will it track the distance, speed, and time metrics (like a pool swim), but you can you can later view your route on a map. Some sports watches will even count your swim strokes, know which strokes you used, and how effective they were.

Keep in mind that many triathlon watches, like those made by Garmin, have sensors that measure your heart rate. Regardless of whether you are swimming, cycling, or running, it is always a good idea to keep track of your heart rate. While you are in the water, however, the sports watch wrist sensor is not quite as accurate in my experience. I recommend wearing a chest strap monitor that will connect wirelessly to your watch for a much more accurate heart rate reading, which can help you get in shape quicker.

Cycling… The Wheels on the Bike Go Round and Round.

A good sports watch will work both when you are cycling on the road or training indoors on a CycleOps trainer. There are plenty of apps and accessories that will communicate with your sports watch, giving you real-time data.

Look for a watch that syncs with other tech, power meters, and is speed/cadence sensor capable. In cycling, “cadence” simply means how many rotations per minute you are peddling. Beginners and pros alike either know, or quickly realize, how important it is to keep track of how hard they peddle, their current speed, average speed, and cadence.

GPS, distance tracking, and even music playing are all features to look for in a sports watch—especially for running! GPS, distance tracking, and even music playing are all features to look for in a sports watch—especially for running!

Running… Where am I?!

Good sports watches will have a quality GPS with an easy-to-use user interface and good maps. It will keep track of your distance, strides, steps, and show where you are on different routes and trails. For those of you who train on treadmills, GPS won’t be much help, so look for a feature called foot pod (an advanced pedometer) to keep track of your numbers. Running dynamics are also important when analyzing your workout, as they measure your vertical oscillation and ground contact time. Some sports watches have pre-programmed and/or programmable workouts to choose from and a recovery mode to help you cool down.

I find that I like to listen to music on a run, but I don’t want the added weight of a cell phone. A few watches will store your music collection, so you can throw on some Bluetooth headphones and hit the road with your tunes. Just remember that it can be dangerous to listen to music depending on where you are. I’ve known some who have used this feature while cycling, but I recommend never doing so: you are sharing the road with motor vehicles, and it can be both a distraction or keep you from hearing a car rolling up behind you.

Multisport Mode… What is that?

For triathletes, a watch with Multisport Mode is key. Multisport Mode allows you to switch from one sport to another. When the training is done and you are out there competing, you don’t want to waste time fussing with your watch. If you are transitioning from swimming to cycling, cycling to running, or doing a brick workout, the watch will keep track of what you are doing and when you transitioned from one sport to the next all on its own. This can save a lot of time during completions. I’ve found that watches specifically created with triathletes in mind work the best in this regard.

Lee Bell, a freelance journalist covering health tech and fitness innovation, wrote about his sports watch in an article for Forbes Media this past August, where he stated:

“Best of all […] is its multi-sports tracking features, which automatically records new swim, run[,] and cycle data based on your movement, and helps you improve on your personal bests in each category, making it perfect for training for a triathlon where you’ll be constantly changing up what type of sport [you’re] training for.”

The Design… How do I look?

When shopping, here are a few extra tips to keep in mind. You don’t want the older-styled GPS sports watches. They are large, heavy, and make it difficult to transition from the swim to the cycling portion of the race, as I mentioned before. A good watch should be light and thin if possible. Why? Well, you want to look cool, less weight is better, and it makes things a lot easier when you’re pulling your arm out of your wetsuit!

So, all this information is great, right? But, which watch should you get?

There are many brands on the market, but most of the triathletes I have become acquainted with seem to hold Garmin watches in high regard. I think they give you the best bang for your buck. I recommend the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus or the Garmin Forerunner 935. Of the two, the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is the more expensive choice, but it has all of the functionalities you could possibly want or need. The Garmin Forerunner 935 is the more economical choice, but it still has a lot of what you’ll need.

Brands like Suunto and Timex do a good job, but Garmin has really set itself apart from the crowd with its many features, workouts, running dynamics, and cycling dynamics. That being said, if you are looking to find a quality watch that won’t break the piggy bank, then I recommend the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR.

All-American Triathlete Tara Schramm Sheets, who’s just competed in the 2018 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Africa and the 2018 UIT World Championship Sprint Triathlon in Gold Coast, Australia this summer is not only a seasoned competitor, but she trains others in the sport as well. When asked which watch she likes, she told me, “I’m liking the Garmin Vivoactive Series with the built-in heart rate monitor. Also, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT is great.” Here is a link to the Garmin Vivoactive Series and the Garmin Forerunner 920XT.

I would advise you all to take a look at all the watches mentioned above. Sometimes, buying a watch that is a generation behind can be a way to save money, but make sure that you always read the reviews. You should decide which features you want and which features you need, so go to the maker’s website to look at each watch individually.


Smart sports watches have revolutionized the way athletes train and track their progress. For those of you competing in or thinking of beginning to train for triathlons, I believe a triathlon sports watch is the way to go. Whether you are in the pool or lake-swimming, cycling, or hitting the pavement for a run, we’ve talked about how the GPS, heart rate monitors, numerous functions, sensors, and apps can really help you track where you are, how well you are doing, how hard you are working, and so much more. We talked about a few examples of watches that fit the bill and got some advice from an All-American athlete. You’re going to be training hard and you may damage some expensive pieces of tech along the way. Here at Armor, we pride ourselves not only on being able to help you choose the best tech options for you but also fixing them when they are damaged. Computers, laptops, cell phones, cameras, and yes, even smart sports watches, we can fix them all.